They arrived at the session exhausted and demoralised. This senior team was collectively, at a point of burnout. A project they had worked extremely hard for, for many years, was now being sidelined. Many livelihoods were at risk. A collective unease and mistrust at being asked to make art to inspire new ways of thinking hung about the room. Half of the group came up to me individually to tell me they couldn’t draw or make art and were not sure why they were being asked to do this. As I begun talking about the role of creativity and art thinking - ‘thinking like an artist’ - to enable reflection space and group co-creation and innovation, a few heads began to look directly at me. I spoke of the importance of creative confidence in the process of innovation, coupled with the sad truth that so many of us have our natural creativity beaten out of us at a young age.
‘65% of the men and women who I interviewed remembered an event… related to their creativity… that was so shaming, it changed how they thought of themselves for the rest of their lives’ – Brene Brown – Creativity and Shame researcher.
I asked the whole group to do a simple drawing exercise to prove to themselves that they can draw and that yes, anyone can draw! Soon the whole group was laughing and had relaxed enough to enable the real work to begin. I lead them through painting exercises individually, in pairs and in larger groups. They were using this process of visualisation to surface deep issues regarding their organisation and the project they were working on, identify their strengths as individuals and as a group and find new ways to grow into their work moving forward.
The atmosphere in the room changed dramatically once this work commenced. A silence which I can only describe as charged, fell. Each person entered a space of unknowing which allowed something new to emerge. Team members who had previously experienced great challenges together in their everyday working relationship, were able to understand one another from a new perspective and to find different means to collaborate in ways that utilised their different strengths.
Through the painting, a great deal was surfaced. Individuals were able to see their place within the team differently and the whole team collectively was able to visualise just how much they as a team had to offer. Towards the end of the session an excitement about new ways forward, using creative principles began to play out in the discussions. In short, the despair that had permeated the group was replaced with a sense of hopefulness.
At the beginning of the session I had introduced the team to the idea of neuroplasticity, which neuroscientist Gregory Burns has coined as ‘the lifelong capacity of the brain to change and rewire itself in response to the stimulation of learning and experience.’ According to Burns, ‘the best way to provoke creativity is to seek out new experiences, which may have nothing to do with your area of expertise. This jolts your attention systems awake and allows for the creation of new neural pathways.’
By using my Art Thinking process to access a different brain states followed by being asking big questions related to their work, the team had access far greater collaborative and strategic capabilities, whilst working from this calmer and more grounded brain state.
They uncovered insights into the value of establishing a more creative culture, where creativity and creative thinking are part of ‘the way we do business’ and the necessity for open collaboration to be facilitated at all levels within the organization. Other insights included the importance of enabling flexibility within the organizational structure, to increase the level of autonomy that individuals and teams could take.
Many participants felt that elements of the existing culture within the organisation meant that some things were often unsaid, or not directly or explicitly communicated. Some described how the process of visualisation enabled them to raise and surface complex and sensitive issues that they may have usually held back on describing verbally.
The team realised the need for clear flows between different levels of the organisation – this was both about leadership and accountability as much as communication. There was clear desire to improve the understanding of the roles, capacities and capabilities of different parts of the organisation.
It apparent towards the end of the session that many participants believed that a more creative organisation would ultimately be a more successful one.
I have now witnessed results similar to this in our sessions with many different organisations’ senior leadership teams and there is now a growing body of evidence that creativity is something that is crucial to success in business. In an IBM Global CEO Study, creativity was selected as the most crucial factor for future success. 60% of CEO's interviewed cited creativity as the most important leadership quality. Project Catalyst, an ongoing arts project, first commissioned in 1999 by Unilever’s then Chairman James Hill and current Chief Marketing Officer Keith Weed, is designed to to help drive organisational transformation and innovation. Results show, it has created a fundamental shift in team dynamics, helping the senior teams to work more effectively. Keith Weed, current chief Marketing officer at Uniliver said of the project ‘I wanted to create a business that really valued creativity and innovation and embraced change. Art’s a great way to bring that sort of inspiration into business. It’s about igniting your passion and unlocking creative potential, being inspired and sharing these experiences with your colleagues.’
My name is Perienne Christina and I am the Chief Executive of Art Thinking Lab. I am an internationally exhibiting visual artist from the Royal Drawing School in London and a trained creativity and visual thinking facilitator. Together with my team of Art Thinking facilitators, I bring strategies from arts processes to the business environment, working with business leaders through the cycles of inspiration, ideation, failure, solution building and transformation.
“An amazing session which delivered some unique insights into the work of our team and individual people’s perspectives. It highlighted how close, loyal and supportive the team is and how committed they are to our success. We were able to see our way forward as a team more clearly after the session. It would have been impossible to have achieved this through discussion in a traditional session - An inspiring experience that I would highly recommend.” Sarah Eaton, Head of Policy and Research, Derbyshire
Using Arts based enquiry, Art Thinking Lab help businesses to navigate and manage the ambiguity inherent within today’s context. Our ‘Art Thinking’ work enables teams to collaborate and communicate in more strategic and impactful ways
For more information or to book a demonstrator session contact firstname.lastname@example.org